Another season complete on Freeride World Tour – part 1

Here’s a quick update to summarize yet another 3-month adventure on the Freeride World Tour 2015!

If you’re new to these pages, let me just summarize by saying that I’m Head of Video and broadcast on the FWT since 2009. The interest in freeriding has grown steadily over the years, and so has the Freeride World Tour and the video productions that we deliver to fans and TVs around the world.

And if you’re new to freeriding, a few pictures speak a thousand words:


Photo credit: Freeride World Tour
(and a big shout out to the talented photographers capturing these spectacular photos!)

Since 2013 we bring live coverage to every competition.

That last sentence alone implies a monumental effort to bring live production facilities to the backcountry, where there are no pre-existing infrastructure: no electricity, no road or pist access, no nothing!
Besides the live production there are tons of other deliverables, from webclips and highlights to newscut and TV programs. That’s a pretty complex operation all in all, especially with the tight deadlines we have to meet to ensure distribution success and keep our sponsors happy. The average production team grew accordinly, from 10-12 people back in the days to between 35 and 40 people nowadays.

They happily travel the world, shooting in freezing temperatures, editing in tents and hangars with gloves on, and so on as can be seen on these behind the scenes photos taken by David Carlier over the first events of the season:

2015 has been a very intense season on every level, first because of some exciting new locations, a new event with the Freeride Juniors World Championship held in Grandvalira/Andorra, and also because Mother Nature played some interesting tricks on us.

After a pretty smooth season start in Chamonix (see the best-of clip here), things got complicated in Fieberbrunn (Austria) due to tricky snow conditions. We had to relocate the event in just 48h to Kappl/Tirol to find the right snow conditions. Unfortunately bib number 2 Julien Lopez triggered an avalanche in the middle of his run. He immediately deployed his ABS airbag to stay on top of the avalanche (now a mandatory piece of equipment for the riders on the FWT) and the rescue team was near him in under a minute. Lopez could ski out of it unharmed, but it was a very stressful moment to handle live – especially as Julien Lopez is a very charismatic guy that a lot of people on the production team know and appreciate.

kappl.avalanche

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Fortunately this crisis scenario was something that we (race director, mountain guides, producer, director, commentators) were prepared for and we had our protocols ready. Of course such an incident raises a lot of questions. Our preparation was put into practice with the production of a press release and video clip above, detailing the dynamics of the avalanche and the safety measures taken prior and during the competition.
The response was well received among fans and media alike, and the decision was made to run two competitions during the next event window in Vallnord, Andorra. Things went well there, with one of the highlights of the season being the insane run from Sam Smoothy – that’s a must watch!

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2h3n5q

2015 World of Red Bull commercial

Every once in a while an unexpected satisfaction pops up out of nowhere. This was the case last april when the new Red Bull commercial featured one shot from the Skycombo project from last year ; try to spot Fred and Vince flying high above the Mont Blanc in the spot below (warning: real quick shot!)

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Thanks again to Val Grollemund for lending me the wide angle lens that captured this shot on the head of Noah Banson. He had no idea back then that I would expose his lens to high altitude, -50°c temperatures and brutal G-forces. The lens came out unharmed fortunately.

More on the skycombo project by the Soulflyers:
http://skycombo.redbull.com/en/home
Previous blog entry on the skycombo project

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Wings for Life World Run 2015

After a successful first edition in 2014 that saw more than 50’000 persons worldwide ran for a cause in this unique global running event, the 2015 edition gathered more than double that number – 101’280 for the precision. The event raised more than 4 million euros for research on spinal cord injuries.

For the second year in a row I was mandated to organize the production and live coverage of the French part of the event.  This race is a big coordination effort with 35 countries and destinations around the world sending their live signal simultaneously to the headquarters in Austria, which in return produces a global program. Check it out on redbull.tv

The concept is very exciting in the first place, but what makes the WFLWR so unique is the contagious positivity emanating from the live pictures from all around the world – and all these people running with a smile on their face!

wflwr1

As far as France is concerned, we were uplinking our signal to Austria but also to French national channel l’Equipe 21 which broadcasted nearly 4 hours of the race on a sunday afternoon – a great visibility for the event.

We were required to provide Austria with a continuous signal for the entire duration of the race (approx. 5 hours), which was achieved thanks to 2 static cameras on the start, 2 cameras on motorbikes and a helicopter equipped with a cineflex. The signal from the motorbikes and helicopter was sent over to the production unit via a relay plane.

These are the highlights from the French part of the event.

See you run somewhere in the world on May 8th, 2016!

Red Bull Elements 2014

Once again the Red Bull Elements took place this september in France in the beautiful area surrounding Talloires, a picturesque village on the shores of the Annecy lake and in the shadow of La Tournette, an iconic mountain dominating the lake.

This was the 4th edition of this unique outdooor relay race. Have a look at the action clip to get a glimpse of the intensity of the race! Rowing, trail running, paragliding and mountain biking are the disciplines involved… but each with a twist that makes this race stand apart from traditional competitions. The level of athletes and teams was impressive in the past. But this edition has been the most disputed ever, without a doubt. Olympians, word champions, professional athletes are the norm in the top finishing teams, and only a couple of minutes separated the top 3 teams after more than 5 hours of racing!

On a production level I put together a team of 25 people for the job: 9 cameras on the ground, 2 runners on motorbikes, a cineflex, HF transmissions for the live signal getting to l’Equipe 21, a satellite truck a.k.a. SNG), 3 editors, 3 POV operators… this extensive team reflects the complexity of the event’s geography (the area to cover is huge!) combined with tight delivery schedules for a TV newscut and action clip. We also needed to cover some key aspects of the race and of the leading teams for the 13-min TV highlights. A big effort in coordination! but the event is well worth it and if you think you’re having a tough day running around on this production, a quick look at the athletes pushing themselves is a good reminder of who’s really making the effort here… 😉

parapente-red-bull-elements-2014-talloires red-bull-elements-2014-parapente red-bull-elements-2014-talloires-vtt-cross-country

all pictures courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool / Damien Rosso / Dom Daher / Jeremy Bernard / Tristan Shu

Soul Flyers’ Skycombo

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http://skycombo.redbull.com

I’ve been lucky enough to work on a number of cool events and progressive projects over the years. But I have to say that this one is certainly standing out as particularly badass. Just check out the clip above.

I first met with Fred Fugen and Vince Reffet, a.k.a. the Soul Flyers, back in april 2013. They had this crazy idea to jump (skydive) over the iconic Mont Blanc at very high altitude, execute a freefly routine, open their parachutes and “swoop” the entire mountain with their super fast, super maneuverable canopies. A visionary idea if you ask me, and one that they convinced Red Bull to bet on. Soon enough the project began to shape, and challenges arose: Fred and Vince would be dealing with extreme cold, lack of oxygen, legal and aeronautical uncertainties… and as a production partner and director on the project, I was challenged by the extreme difficulty to document the performance given the very hostile environnement, and a rather complex story to tell through short, action-packed clips.

Indeed I immediately realized that the more I learned about the project, the more impressive the performance became. Without a minimum of context it could appear as “just” a high-altitude skydive with some oxygen masks on. The invisible challenges needed to be deciphered for the audience: extreme cold (-50°c), lack of oxygen (I learned a great deal about hypoxia and the 20-30 seconds of useful consciousness you have at 10’000 meters if you’re deprived from an oxygen supply), airspace regulations… and the list goes on. Oh, and did I mention that Fred and Vince would be flying at nearly 100 km/h just meters away from one of the most inhospitable mountain in Europe? these guys have become my new idols. Like, you know, you’d want to be them, fly and have as much fun as they do, and master their sport in such a cool yet innovative way.

Fred Fugen and Vincent Reffet - Action Fred Fugen and Vincent Reffet - Action Fred Fugen - Lifestyle

all pictures courtesy of Red Bull / Dom Daher

The whole project took more than a year to come together. This long and meticulous preparation has been documented and you can get a glimpse of these guy’s hard work in the 8-minute making-of here:
http://www.redbull.com/fr/fr/adventure/videos/1331661539177/skycombo-soul-flyers-behind-the-scene-video

On a production level it’s been complex to find the right tools, especially for the first phase of the jump between 10’000 meters and 6’000 meters. No helicopter can fly this high and the only way to capture the freefly routine was through gopros, and with the help of skydive extraordinaire Noah Banson who is the ‘official’ cameraman/photographer of the Soulflyers and executed the jump with them. I ended up picking the then brand new GH4 for the stunt; the weight was just fine for Noah (the camera was helmet-mounted and anything too heavy could seriously hurt his neck during the parachute opening, which was a no go), and with the right combination of Speedbooster adapter and wide angle lens, we managed to get a 16mm equivalent which is what I was after. We shot the jump in 4K, which gave a pretty comfortable margin to then stabilize the shots in post production for our HD master, getting closer to a 20mm field of view in the process and ultimately not fall into the “fisheye-adrenaline junky” aspect that is too common in action sports. Last but not least, the GH4 is well-built and seemed capable of resisting the super low temperatures for the duration of the freefall. An extra layer of neoprene for thermal protection was the final touch, and the GH4 functioned flawlessly under these extreme conditions, travelling 230 km/h in -50°c and still recording stunning 4K video.

Once again the project gave “team work” its true meaning, with oxygen experts, cameramen, mountain guides, heli and plane pilots all working together to make this project the success that is was. Not to forget the people @ Red Bull whose support and passion made it possible for Fred and Vince to set a new, high-altitude landmark in the world of aerial sports. Very well done, gentlemen.